With the academic year off to a racing start, the Civil War Institute Fellows are hard at work on their assignments for this semester! Veteran Fellows Cameron Sauers ’21 and Isaac Shoop ’21 have been joined for this year by new recruits, Gavin Maziarz ’22 and Erica Uszak ’22. Each one of our Fellows is so excited to be engaged in their projects and sharing history with all of you!
We recently launched a new Facebook group titled “Gettysburg College’s Civil War Book Club,” where we will be discussing and debating recent works of Civil War scholarship. Fellows Gavin Maziarz, Cameron Sauers, and Isaac Schoop will be posting questions and leading the discussion in the group. Meanwhile, Erica Uszak will be writing a Killed at Gettysburg entry on First Lieutenant Elijah Hayden, Co. H , 8th Ohio.
Here on the blog, our Fellows will continue to share reflections and insights from their chosen projects. We will also continue to update the blog with posts reporting on special events both on campus and around Gettysburg.
We hope you will continue to support the Fellows by reading their posts, sharing and liking pieces, commenting, and asking any questions that these posts might provoke. We students are learning right alongside you and enjoy any opportunity to engage in thoughtful discussion about the topics at hand.
The Civil War Institute is excited to launch its Facebook book club titled “Gettysburg College’s Civil War Book Club.” We will post an open invite on the CWI Facebook to join the group, or you can directly search “Gettysburg College’s Civil War Book Club” on Facebook. There are no fees or requirements to join the group, any and all are welcome to join us! We intend this group to be a forum for discussion and debate about recent selected Civil War scholarship. We encourage you to join our CWI Fellows in reading the selected book and be a part of the conversation. Our Fellows team will be posting discussion questions relating to the book and working to foster a discussion among group members.
We will not post discussion questions in the group right away, so that those who are interested in participating can acquire a copy of the book and begin reading. Discussion questions will be posted chronologically in relation to the book, so read at your leisure and savor the enjoyment of a good book. We are very excited for this initiative and hope you are too!
By Cameron Sauers ’21 The bearer of this sword was a member of a United States Navy that rapidly grew in power during the Civil War, increasing its enlistment 500% and developing the first ironclad ship. However, even as the Navy was in the midst of its transition, one thing remained in place: The U.S. … Continue reading “Cutting Through the Ranks: the Navy’s Forgotten Legacy”
The bearer of this sword was a member of a United States Navy that rapidly grew in power during the Civil War, increasing its enlistment 500% and developing the first ironclad ship. However, even as the Navy was in the midst of its transition, one thing remained in place: The U.S. Model 1852 Navy Officer’s Sword. The sword is still used in the Navy today, albeit for ceremonial purposes. Yet, for all that this sword symbolizes, very few scholars have given much attention to it or the sailors who used it in the Civil War. The common soldier has received much more attention than the common seaman and his officers. While there were considerably more men serving in the Army than the Navy (the Navy started the war with 7,600 sailors and grew to 51,500 by the end, whereas the Union Army boasted about 2.2 million enlisted men), the Navy was still an important part of the Union war effort and therefore deserving of attention. An analysis of the U.S. Model 1852 Navy Officer’s Sword provides a window into the complicated power dynamics between naval officers and enlisted seamen. Furthermore, such an analysis also highlights the naval officers’ often contentious relationships with officers from other military branches, who frequently clashed over who was in command of joint naval-army operations. The sword also begs the question as to what types of individuals may have possessed, or fallen under the authority of, such swords, why they joined the Union Navy in the first place, and the challenges of command that confronted naval officers.
During the Civil War, change happened in nearly all aspects of the Navy, from the types of ships deployed down to the small arms used by sailors, all with the aim to transition the Navy from a small force into a global power. One of these changes was a move away from heavier broadswords towards a new cutlass modeled after the French naval cutlass, which would be the last naval sword issued to common sailors. However, the new naval cutlass lacked the beauty and authority of the 1852 Naval Officer’s Sword, which was not altered during the Civil War. The sword was one of the few holdovers from the weak antebellum Navy, which would be transformed into a powerful force during the Civil War. When Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles assumed his post in March of 1861, he needed to rapidly mobilize ships and men to serve on them. The officers and seamen who served on naval ships created a unique maritime culture and experience different from what soldiers serving in the Army experienced. Enlisting in the Navy was an individual activity and lacked the theatrical or grand patriotic displays of enlistment traditionally associated with the Army. Army regiments marched off to war with flags made by wives and sweethearts and often participated in parades through hometowns before they went South for battle. Historian Michael Bennett argues that since ships were only able to be operated by collective groups of men, and not a singular individual, naval warfare clashed with the public’s belief that a singular individual could turn the tide of battle with their heroism. Thus, there were no grand send-offs for Union sailors. Enlisted sailors also represented a slightly different demographic from those in the Army. The “common sailor” was 26 years old and hailed from a major city along the Atlantic coast. He was also likely an unemployed worker from the laboring class seeking relief from an unemployment crisis among the skilled trades. The Navy also had significantly higher percentages of African-Americans and immigrants than did the Union Army.
In contrast to his men, the naval officer who would have carried this sword with him was likely a native born, middle-or upper-class man who understood that the Navy was a hierarchy that functioned much like aristocracy. Unlike the Army, the Navy was not beset by problems of politically appointed officers because no politician was brazen enough to believe they could adequately command a warship, let alone a fleet or squadron. Commander J. A. Winslow wrote that the Navy would not accept “useless officers” in exchange for enlisted men. The Navy thus saw itself, especially its officer corps, as a uniquely professional service where experience was necessary. Graduation from the antebellum Naval Academy could take between 5 and 7 years, and with the first class of graduates joining the Navy in 1854, it was clear that experience could not be compensated for. However, the difference in background between officers and common seamen made it difficult for them to understand each other, leading to clashes and tests of authority.
This sword was a key symbol of authority for naval officers who continually found themselves in a struggle to maintain power over their men. Since officers and enlisted sailors came from different social classes, they frequently clashed over behavioral habits. Officers hated sailors’ penchant for rum, swearing, and brawls because such habits were unacceptable in the polite society to which they were accustomed. This disapproval, in turn, made officers appealing targets for the oaths of seamen – the phrase “swear like a sailor” fit in the Union navy. The two groups frequently complained about each other, with sailors snarking that officers were incompetent and officers lamenting that their sailors were inefficient with their labor. Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter complained to Rear Admiral Andrew H. Foote that “they send us all rubbish here; we want good men.” The clanging of this expensive sword, however, would have sent procrastinating sailors back to work, perhaps with an ensuing string of oaths about their upper-class officers. Even just sitting at the officer’s hip, this sword acted as a stark reminder of the status difference between the wealthy officer and the poor seamen he commanded. This sword is 39.25” inches long and, unlike the standard naval cutlass, was manufactured by Ames. The grip is wrapped in sharkskin and the blade is etched to show a fouled anchor, acanthus leaf, and U.S. shield. The elaborate designs continue onto the scabbard, including the drag of a dolphin. This sword is substantially more ornate than the traditional naval cutlass and would have cost much more than the average sailor could ever afford—a fact that intimidated some sailors into compliance, while making others bristle at the aristocratic displays of their officers. While army officers regularly clashed with some of their enlisted men, they truly feared any serious attempts to undermine authority onboard their naval vessels, as such behavior could spark a mutiny that could prove especially dangerous for the entire crew. Thus, it was imperative that naval officers remind the seamen, by action and by sword, that they possessed unquestionable authority, through experience, class, and social rank, over the ship.
While an officer’s sword would help him assert his authority over sailors, it was less effective in asserting naval authority when performing joint operations with the Army. At the start of the war, there was no protocol for who was to command joint naval and army operations, which hampered Union efforts because neither branch’s officers were willing to concede their own authority. This often left both parties in an uncomfortable dilemma. Some of these standoffs were either awkwardly or aggressively resolved, as was the case in 1862 during the joint Peninsula Campaign in Virginia, when Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase watched the initial contest for Hampton Roads stagnate because neither the army nor naval officers would concede authority in rolling out the campaign plans. The stalemate was resolved only when Chase subsequently received permission from President Lincoln to order the operation forward by invoking President Lincoln’s name, as the President is the sole individual with inherent authority over both Army and Navy. Historian Craig L. Symonds argues that for joint operations, cooperation was encouraged and perhaps expected, but it could never be mandated from officers, who were held accountable for their actions alone. Ultimately, the success of such operations was more dependent on the meshing of personalities than on any one side’s material or behavioral display of authority.
Unlike many Army officers, Union Naval Secretary Gideon Welles believed firmly in running the Navy as a meritocracy where officers were “energetic, resourceful, uncomplaining and ruthlessly aggressive,” which contributed to Army-Navy tensions. Naval officers’ inclination toward risk-taking produced a near-Navy-wide disdain for Army colleagues who received their postings through political jockeying instead of achievements in battle. Hence, when it came time for joint operations, naval officers felt they deserved command because they had the experience necessary to make important decisions about bold battle plans. Meanwhile, politically appointed Army officers may have felt they deserved command because they raised entire regiments of men themselves, and thus felt that their subordinates deserved to go into battle under the command of the man they signed up to fight under. Army officers also resented the fact that, if they made a mistake in battle that sacrificed the regiment they had raised, they would likely be cashiered or court martialed from the service. But if a naval officer had one of his ships sunk, his men would likely still survive, as they could simply be rescued by nearby boats or escape to land, as often happened, and, naval officers were more likely to simply be reassigned after such a failure, rather than discharged. No matter their politics, or wherever their command was, naval officers had a sword representative of their station. Unlike for Army officers, these swords were an unmistakable symbol of an individual’s military merit and not their political connections. Even so, naval officers routinely found that the authority invested in them through their swords, and all that these prized possessions symbolized, was tested at nearly every turn, on land and at sea, by army officers as well as enlisted seamen.
As the Navy moved forward into the age of ironclad ships, traditional naval blades were eventually left behind alongside the outdated age of wooden battle ships. With the military efficiency afforded by ironclads, there was no longer a need for boarding parties, or for a blade to cut rigging down, and so the cutlass was phased out. The regal naval officers’ sword, however, remained, and is still used for ceremonial purposes today. Long celebrated as a “gentleman’s weapon,” the naval sword resisted retirement partially due to the reverence its bearers held for its symbolic appeals to uniquely naval traditions, as well as its symbolic celebration of military merit, social rank, and class distinction. The cold steel of the sword has been permanently enshrined in marble at the Naval Peace Monument, which was erected in 1877 on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol building. A dove (now missing) on the monument “once nested upon a sheaf of wheat in a grouping of a cornucopia, turned earth, and a sickle resting across a sword.” The sword is part of a monument that reminds viewers that “They died that their country may live.” Although the authority of the sword’s bearers was consistently tested, both on land and at sea, the sword’s featured placement on the monument stands as a lasting testament to the authority, influence, and distinction with which navy officers and the men they commanded served in order to ensure the successful prosecution of the Union war effort.
Bennett, Michael J. Union Jacks: Yankee Sailors in the Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
Eng, Matthew. ““Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye”: The Civil War Navies in Public Memory.” In The Civil War in Popular Culture: Memory and Meaning, edited by Kreiser Lawrence A. and Allred Randal, 117-34. University Press of Kentucky, 2014.
Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2019 CWI Conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Aaron Sheehan-Dean, Fred C. Frey Professor of Southern Studies at Louisiana State University and the Chair of LSU’s History Department. He teaches courses on nineteenth-century U.S. history, the Civil War and Reconstruction, and southern History. He is the author of Why Confederates Fought: Family and Nation in Civil War Virginia (UNC Press, 2007), Concise Historical Atlas of the U.S. Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2008), and is the editor of several other volumes. His most recent book, The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil War, was released by Harvard University Press in Fall, 2018.
CWI: Your most recent book, The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil War, is fresh off the press. What were the main interpretive questions that motivated you to research and write this book? What was the primary methodological framework that you used when writing this book?
SHEEHAN-DEAN: Initially, I wanted to answer what I thought would be a straight-forward question: Who could be lawfully killed in war? I wanted to explore how people made ethical decisions about who could be subjected to violence. In the process of researching what was supposed to be a stand-alone essay, I realized that we don’t have a clear sense of who was killed, never mind how people justified that killing. So, I spent a long time studying regular battles, guerrillas, occupation, sieges – basically, all the places where violence existed. What I found was that an easy dichotomy between either a bloody harbinger of the twentieth century or a restrained gentleman’s war failed to capture the reality. The war was both bloody and restrained, filled with both malice and charity (to paraphrase Lincoln). I then spent a long time piecing together how people understood and explained their behavior (to themselves and the world at large). So, the book is partly intellectual history but, in the nineteenth century, that means religious history, cultural history, and legal and political history. Last, I felt it was important to capture the attitudes of both sides. We have a number of excellent books on how northerners thought about war but because war is a dynamic process, our vision should encompass both North and South.
CWI: How has your research into the violence of the Civil War changed or enriched your previous understanding of 19th-century warfare? How might your research influence the way everyday Americans remember the Civil War?
SHEEHAN-DEAN: Participants in the Civil War drew on older models of warfare, both European and American, and innovated. The role of slavery created a new problem. The US Army had encountered slavery before – in the Seminole Wars, among others – but the federal government had never turned decisively against it, which created a whole new role for the army, something more akin to the efforts demanded of it in the 20th and 21st Century, when we anticipate that soldiers will interact with enemy civilians and that every military action has political consequences. Emancipation entailed both the seizure of personal property (belonging to the slaveholder), a shift of manpower from the Confederate to the Union side of the war, and the social and political consequences of liberating enslaved people. When the US Army operates today, in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, we know that confiscating property or jailing suspected enemies can shape the political support for or against an American presence. Imperial armies of the 18th century didn’t have much concern to this issue. I was also surprised by the pervasive respect for the laws of war, not just among soldiers but among citizens as well. Although few people had read Grotius (the 17th-century Dutch jurist who wrote the basic compendium of the laws of war for Europe), they knew roughly what lawful conduct looked like and they expected their armies to practice it. This reminds us that in a democracy, the army is the people and vice versa. We have responsibility, as citizens, for ensuring that our military respects the values we hold, which can be hard to articulate and enforce in the midst of conflict. I anticipate that readers will find stories that discourage them – some episodes in the war demonstrate that wartime Americans were no better behaved than anyone else when it came to war and sometimes people used the law of war itself as a cover to commit unnecessary violence. Other stories might inspire them by revealing the ways that laws curtailed excessive violence and in general, the power of people to choose wisely about how to conduct war.
CWI: According to this new research, how did the violence of the Civil War influence Reconstruction and both its short-term and long-term legacies?
SHEEHAN-DEAN: I didn’t carry the story into Reconstruction, which is a weakness of the book, though it took a lot of pages to reach the war’s end… As readers will see, there was a lot in the war that left bad legacies and alienated southerners from northerners and black people from white people. But it also left legacies of peace and mercy. As with almost everything in history, it becomes a question of interpretation. It was easier for white southerners to mythologize Sherman’s destructiveness and paint themselves as victims and it was easier for white northerners to take credit for ending slavery and believe their conduct was flawless. Neither of these stereotypes is true but they played an important role in shaping postwar politics.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not reflect the position of the Civil War Institute, nor of all CWI Fellows or Civil War enthusiasts. While the author received many names that deserved to be on this list, he regrettably had to choose only ten. That being said, please sit back, relax, and prepare to fall in love with the officers of Gettysburg this Valentine’s Day.
Winfield Scott Hancock
Wearing a crisp white shirt into battle? The goatee? “Hancock the Superb” is a true icon!
This boyish-faced Harvard graduate was known to wear a checkered, flannel lumberjack shirt under an unbuttoned uniform coat.
Henry Kyd Douglas
The author of “I rode with Stonewall” needs no complimenting from us (he did it enough in his book).
Known for his flashy uniform and flamboyance, Custer’s style plus flowing blonde hair makes him worthy of a coveted spot on our list.
Alexander “Sandie” Swift Pendleton
With boyish good looks at 22 while at Gettysburg, we can’t help but swoon over Sandie Pendleton.
Guild was noted for his study of yellow fever, which is good because we’re burning up for the Medical Director of the Army of the Northern Virginia!
From a young, attractive cadet at VMI to Lee’s personal aide-de-camp, Taylor gracefully managed the burden of serving on Lee’s small staff and matured with poise during the war.
Gouverneur Kemble Warren
While his statue continues to keep lookout on Little Round Top, we should be keeping a lookout for him!
Garnett was kicked in the leg by his horse, leaving him unable to walk during the Gettysburg Campaign. It was only fitting for a man who makes us weak in the knees.
The mutton chops and “Strong” name makes Vincent the perfect choice to round out our list (the Harvard education doesn’t hurt either).
This post is the final one of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. Seehere for the introduction to the series.
This summer, I had the privilege of interning at the Civil War Defenses of Washington, in Washington D.C. The Civil War Defenses of Washington is unique within the National Park system. Unlike most historical and military parks, the Civil War Defenses of Washington has no central location or site. Rather, the park is made up of nineteen different fort sites used in defense of the city of Washington during the Civil War. What also makes this park unique is its relationship with the land and local terrain. Most of these forts were constructed through the strategic manipulation of land. Civil War soldiers molded the land to build earthen trenches, mounds, and hills. At many of the forts, these earthworks are the only structures that link these places to the Civil War.
Throughout the summer, I was asked to think about the relationship between objects and the people who use or used them. Through different human interactions, objects take on a life of their own, carrying hidden narratives, symbols, and meanings. In the context of the Civil War Defenses of Washington, it’s worthwhile to consider land as an object. At these forts, the land has been the main force that connects these sites to the Civil War. The land has both shaped and been shaped by the people who interacted with it. Much like buildings, artifacts, and memorials, the land has a narrative of its own, holding different meanings for different people.
Fort Stevens is one of the many forts Civil War Defenses oversees. While the fort is heavily connected to the Civil War and the battle that was fought there, the land Fort Stevens was built on holds a multitude of different meanings. During its period serving as a Civil War Union fort, the land was directly linked to the military and war. To those who interacted with it, the land served as a stronghold and defense against Confederate forces. The land was also a battleground, a place where Union soldiers held off Confederate forces, squashing an attempt to invade Washington. To many, the land is a symbol of a Union victory as well as a sacred ground, where soldiers fought and died. However, before, during, and after the war, this land was also someone’s home.
A free African-American woman, Elizabeth Proctor Thomas, owned and lived on the land Fort Stevens was built on. In September 1861, Union troops took possession of her land and destroyed her home, barn, orchard, and garden to build Fort Stevens. During the destruction of her property, a man who is believed to be President Lincoln offered her words of comfort. To Mrs. Thomas, the land held a different meaning; it symbolized the loss and destruction of her home as well as a place of union, a place where a president forged a bond with an African American woman. Mrs. Thomas’ encounter with Lincoln forever shaped her perception of the Civil War and the president. After the war, she spoke fondly of Lincoln and sold a portion of her land to preserve the remaining earthworks and establish a park.
The Civil War Defense of Washington uses the land Fort Stevens resides on to share both of these two narratives. This year the park just recently commemorated the 154th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Stevens. In September, another event will be held to remember Mrs. Thomas and her contribution to the war and local community. Through Thomas’s story, Fort Stevens continues to remind visitors of the complex relationships people have with the land and the various meanings and stories hidden within it.
Every summer, we feature posts on the blog that provide a behind-the-scenes view of what it’s like to work on the frontlines of history. Our contributors – Gettysburg College students doing summer internships under the auspices of CWI’s Brian C. Pohanka Internship Program – share their experiences giving tours of some of the nation’s leading historic sites, talking with visitors, and working with historical artifacts, educational programs, and archival collections. This summer, our Pohanka interns will be probing the way that interactions between historical actors (people) and material objects (artifacts such as objects, buildings, etc.) shape attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Student interns will be reflecting on the diverse meanings that 19th century Americans attached to material objects, and the way their interactions with these objects may have shaped or reflected their cultural attitudes, political or religious convictions, and/or daily practices. Students will also be considering how historic sites and museums can use artifacts to stimulate visitors’ thinking on the complex relationship between objects and the people who use them. Follow our summer “Pohanka Posts” series over the next few weeks to learn about the artifacts that have captured our students’ attention!
In the fall, I had the incredible opportunity to work on developing a wayside for the 20th Maine at Little Round Top. Working on that wayside was really meaningful to me because it was an opportunity to tell the kind of story that has the potential to inspire in visitors a sense of national pride and appreciation for our past. Though my colleague and I tried to make clear that the fighting at Little Round Top was a bloody and savage fight, the story remains a heroic tale of brave men, exceptional leadership, and sacrifice for a higher purpose. This semester, when working a wayside for Brigadier General Alfred Iverson’s July 1st assault, my colleague, Zach Wesley, and I dealt with an entirely different story. We were tasked with telling a narrative not of heroism and higher purpose, but about dereliction of duty and senseless death. This story is important to tell because it is a reminder of the harsh realities that accompany war in any age.
As it stands, the park avoids much interpretation Iverson’s assault. Instead, the Eternal Peace Light Memorial dominates the landscape. The Eternal Peace Light Memorial, dedicated in 1938, served to unite the North and South on the eve of World War II. The memorial is an important part of the way we remember and make sense of the Civil War, but it also obscures the savagery that took place on the battlefield on July 1st, 1863. On that day, Iverson’s men launched a poorly-timed assault, unaware that the Union soldiers stood crouched behind a stone wall in front of them. From a distance of fifty yards, the Union soldiers emerged from behind the wall and gunned down 900 of Iverson’s 1400 men in a span of only 20 minutes. It’s nearly impossible to imagine the carnage that took place on Oak Ridge that day, but we hoped to highlight the brutality of the assault through evocative imagery and eyewitness accounts. One quote that really stuck out to me was written by Confederate artillerist Henry Berkeley. He wrote, “There were … seventy-nine North Carolinians laying dead in a straight line… They had evidently been killed by one volley of musketry and they had fallen in their tracks without a single struggle.” I think these words are incredibly powerful because they provide a visual that has the potential to leave a visitor feeling strong emotions, and perhaps somewhat unsettled.
While Iverson’s men were being gunned down by Union soldiers from close proximity, Iverson himself remained in the rear. Perhaps it was cowardice that kept him back, or perhaps he was drunk as the rumors suggested. Whatever the reason for Iverson’s failure to lead that day, his actions highlight unfortunate reality of war. Though military leaders are typically held to a higher standard than enlisted men, they too exhibit the whole range of human experience. They display bravery and cowardice; they make good calls and they misjudge situations; they coordinate effectively and they fail to communicate. In Iverson’s case, his failure to communicate with another brigade commander left his men vulnerable to the Union ambush. He was not the first military commander to fail, and he certainly would not be the last. However, Iverson’s assault reveals the devastating consequences that inevitable lapses of judgement among leadership can have. In war, the consequence of mistakes, miscommunication, or cowardice is too often bloodbath.
Perhaps worst of all, the story of Iverson’s assault appears to have no redemptive quality for Iverson’s men. They did their duty, but for what? While the Union soldiers at Little Round Top bravely sacrificed themselves for the preservation of the Union and for the freedom of millions, over half of Iverson’s men were massacred in a span of twenty minutes to preserve the right of some to own others. For Iverson’s men, the Confederate cause was a worthy one; they fought to hold onto the foundation of their society. Yet, the carelessness and negligence with which Iverson’s attack was carried out meant that they did not die a noble death. Rather, they were simply gunned down in their tracks. Not only did many of them die unnecessary deaths, they died for a losing cause and for one that history ultimately deemed ignoble. For me, the story of Iverson’s assault serves as a cautionary tale for future generations. In many cases, war isn’t about glory and sacrifice. Instead, it’s about following orders that sometimes get a lot of people killed. Sometimes war serves to make the world a better place, but sometimes history judges its cause unjust. Whatever the case, the disaster that occurred at Iverson’s Pits should serve as a reminder of the devastating impact of war.
Long before Katharine Graham and Arianna Huffington established themselves in the traditionally male-dominated world of journalism, three women living through the uncertainty of the Civil War years broke into the field by controversial means: subversion. Lida Dutton (19), Lizzie Dutton (24), and Sarah Steer (26) were staunch Unionists of comfortable wealth living in Loudoun County, Virginia, a pocket of Unionist sentiment and abolitionist Quaker faith, in 1864 when they established the Waterford News, a pro-Union newspaper written, edited, and distributed in Confederate territory. The Waterford News provided an illustration of daily life in a southern town while simultaneously boosting morale for Federal soldiers (often in the form of editorials, riddles, and poems) and criticizing Confederate sympathizers. In May of 1864, for example, the women published a poem titled, “To President Abraham Lincoln” that consisted of a few four-line rhyming stanzas. Proceeds were donated to the U.S. Sanitary Commission. Running until the end of the war, The Waterford News allowed these three young women to voice their dissent while directly supporting the Union cause through financial means, all while living in an increasingly hostile Southern environment.
These women broke new ground by choosing to overcome traditional female domestic confinement and serve the war effort by sharing their voices publicly. Steer and the Dutton sisters were brought up in Quaker households where girls were educated alongside boys and where slavery was scorned as sinful. They held similar Unionist views as their families, which had to reconcile two Quaker sentiments: nonviolence and abolition. While some Quakers did break convention and join the army to help end slavery, James Dutton, Lida and Lizzie’s brother, chose to head north to Maryland in an attempt to escape Confederate enlistment. Before launching their newspaper, the Dutton sisters and Steer even cared for Union soldiers and hid them in their homes. Furthermore, the world of journalism–especially war correspondence–was traditionally dominated by men, so by lending their voices to their cause in the face of adversity and fear, the women of The Waterford News joined a select group of outspoken women whose rhetoric influenced the war. There were, of course, a number of women writers documenting their wartime experiences, including Mary Chesnut and Harriet Beecher Stowe, but Steer and the Duttons distinguished themselves as journalists, rather than memoirists or novelists. After the war, Lizzie and Lida married Union veterans and left Waterford, while Sarah became a teacher at Waterford’s first school for black children, established by the Freedman’s Bureau with the help of local Quakers.
Despite their emboldened actions, however, Lida, Lizzie, and Sarah were not unlike most other women living through the Civil War. They endured a Union blockade which, they complained, meant they could not buy nice clothes and other fineries (though, granted, other women lived through much more extreme forms of poverty). They managed family farms and businesses while the men were hiding from Confederate recruiters, taking on new and often stressful responsibilities. They worried about the safety of fathers, brothers, and friends who were fighting or hiding from Confederate forces, and, most importantly, they had to endure four long years of war and all of its accompanying hardships. Being a Union sympathizer in a southern state was particularly challenging: Lida, Lizzie, and Sarah were at risk of violence from both sides, including partisan raids by John Mosby and Federal orders to burn southern towns. The threat of angry Confederates trying to silence dissenters was pervasive. Still, Steer and the Dutton sisters can be said to embody the wider challenges that women faced during the Civil War.
Where, then, do we place Lida, Lizzie, and Sarah in the realm of women’s Civil War history? While they endured many of the same hardships as other women, they held a certain degree of privilege afforded to them by both their gender and their race. In the 19th century, women were not considered official political actors, nor were they believed to be publicly influential enough to warrant any legitimate threat through the written word. (Ironically, though, politicians and generals alike repeatedly appealed to women of both sides to “fulfill their feminine duties” of as “republican mothers” and contribute their “invaluable” support to the war effort through charity work, nursing, and other duties both public and private). Additionally, Victorian society emphasized gentlemanly conduct toward women, giving the Waterford women a degree of safety and allowing them to subvert Confederate authority. Unfortunately, this was not granted to all women. Black women especially were at a higher risk of violence from both Union and Confederate soldiers and sympathizers, and there are many cases of reported (and likely far more cases of unreported) sexual assault against black women by white soldiers.
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, women war correspondents such as Martha Gellhorn and Dickie Chapelle covered monumental events including the Spanish Civil War, the U.S. invasion of Panama, D-Day, and the Vietnam War, paving the way for future female journalists like Lynsey Addario, who has photographed conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Gellhorn, Chapelle, and Addario have all faced incredible challenges as women in the field of war journalism: Gellhorn stowed away in the bathroom of a hospital ship in order to go ashore during the invasion of Normandy, and Chapelle was killed in Vietnam. Both women had to subvert authority with a certain degree of defiance to find their place in the world of war correspondence, much like Steer and the Duttons did, and while it is highly unlikely that Gellhorn, Chapelle, or Addario had ever heard of The Waterford News, one cannot help but acknowledge the progress that women war journalists have made since 1864.
The Civil War Institute Fellows are back with replenished ranks for the 2017-18 academic year. This year, our veteran writers will be joined by green troops eagerly waiting to “see the elephant.” Armed with notebooks, libraries, and word processors, they stand united in line of battle to engage the history around them.
The Gettysburg Compiler remains the flagship of the fellowship, offering students the opportunity to showcase their hard work for the greater public. In the coming weeks and months, expect to see the Fellows tackle the past and present in new and exciting ways. As before, Fellows will share stories from the past, covering topics such as civilian life, slavery, and war and incorporating themes such as race, gender, and memory. The Fellows will be digging deep into the annals of history, examining eyewitness accounts of the often chaotic past and analyzing the ways in which people have engaged with their own versions of history. The Fellows are also keenly aware of their own place in history, so be sure to look out for their ruminations on the “living” history.